Crossing time zones? Five simple habits to help your body adjust
It's a common experience for travelers: You look forward to vacation for months on end, and when you finally arrive at your destination, all you want to do is hide in a dark room for a few days until you feel human again. Why does jet lag happen? The short answer is that flying messes with our built-in routines, which are known as circadian rhythms, and when we fly, these rhythms are thrown into complete upheaval. Moving through time zones can wreak havoc on our bodies, leading to extreme fatigue, insomnia, indigestion, loss of appetite, irritability and concentration issues. The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to be exhausted and irritable and the longer and more intense the symptoms are likely to be.
Jet lag affects people in different ways, and the effects can vary depending on how old you are and how healthy you are. Some swear by complicated multi-day pre-flight schedules that involve setting your clock to your new destination the week before you fly, but let’s be honest: Who has time for that? If you can stick to these five simple tips, your chances of suffering jet lag will greatly diminish.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
No, that does not include alcohol. As tempting as the pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight cocktails may be, it’s going to take days off your vacation to fully recover from that kind of dehydration. Flying is hard enough on the body; add too much booze into the mix, and it can be a disaster. If you can hold off on the alcohol until you reach your destination, you are already miles ahead of those who opt to drink themselves to sleep on long flights. One drink can help you relax, but, generally speaking, any more than that, and you are going to feel as if you have been hit by a truck. Force yourself to drink water every time the flight attendants come around offering it and each time you get up to use the toilet. It’s a simple habit that makes a difference in recovery time once you have landed.
Move your body
If you have an exercise regime, make sure you do it the night before you fly the next day. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of packing, organizing and saying goodbyes, so oftentimes we opt out of our final workout (vacation time has officially started, after all), but it will make a difference in jet lag's physiological effects, such as bodily aches and pains and stiff joints. Once you have checked in and are waiting at the gate, try to walk around as much as you can, or do some standing stretches. You will soon be squeezed into a small space and sitting for many hours at a time, so keep the blood flowing while you still can. A pre-flight workout, and, if you can swing it, some sort of exercise once you arrive, will help immensely with correcting your inner clock to your new time zone.
To help with extreme fatigue and insomnia, try taking a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that regulates the sleep cycle, and it may help reset your sleep-and-wake cycle. Some studies show that users experience less jet lag on both eastward and westward flights.
Traveling overnight is always a good idea. You can have dinner at a normal time and will be much more likely to sleep than on an afternoon flight. Depending on the length of the flight and the number of time zones you cross, you’ll arrive at your destination in the morning or afternoon, when it is still light out. Daylight (ideally sunshine) makes it much easier to stay awake and get out and explore. That way, you can tire yourself out and, hopefully, get a good night's sleep.
Get organized and skip the farewell party
Flying is stressful. It's always best to conserve energy before a long flight. Once you are out of work, the temptation is to celebrate, but the reality is that staying up late and socializing the night before travel can definitely exacerbate jet lag symptoms. Get organized a couple of days before your departure, not only with logistics, but with saying your goodbyes. The last thing you want to do before you fly is to frantically pack and squeeze in last-minute dinner dates. A restful 24 hours before you fly enables you to navigate the stress of travel with a calm attitude, as well as minimize the chances of self-medicating with alcohol or making other unhealthy choices.